Photo by the Department of Sustainability & Environment.

Right whales may get screwed for being in the right place at the wrong time. That’s because the U.S. Navy wants to build a $100 million offshore training range in the very same area as the endangered whales’ regular swimming zone. Ah yes, the age-old battle of whales versus sailors — I seem to recall this usually ends with someone getting eaten, and it isn’t a whale.

The Navy wants to install an undersea array of cables and sensors for training warships, submarines and aircraft about 50 miles off the Atlantic coast of southern Georgia and northern Florida. Environmentalists have sued to block the project, saying it’s too close to waters where right whales migrate near shore each winter to birth their calves.

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A coalition of environmental organizations is suing to block the training range, claiming that the Navy approved the facility before finishing up its study of how often right whales visit the 500-square-mile site. The suit went before a federal judge yesterday, but no decision has been made either way yet.

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The problem is that right whales are crazy endangered — only 400-ish of the mammals exist in the world. Environmentalists worry that it’s maybe not a good idea to mix severely endangered animals and places where people practice killing stuff. The whales could collide with warships or ensnare themselves in parachutes, cords, buoys, and other Navy junk, and there’s some evidence that sonar can disrupt whales’ feeding patterns or cause them to beach themselves. With right whale populations swimming towards critical lows, ocean ecosystems really can’t afford to lose even a single one.

The Navy says it will halt construction during the whales’ breeding season from November to April, and claims that its own computer models show that the risk of mammals’ colliding with ships is low. But if there’s a vast ocean out there where the Navy could conduct its training, couldn’t they pick a location that isn’t a hot spot for one of the world’s most seriously endangered swimmers?

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